Health care has become one of the biggest — and most costly — unknowns during retirement. Financial advisors say ignore what you don’t know and prepare for the worst.
The health-care debate in the United States has turned into a jumble of ideas. Some want to go back to a system similar to the one we had prior to the Affordable Care Act, others want to fix the issues in the current system, while still others want single-payer. While compromise feels unlikely at this point, it leaves a huge question for savers: What will health care look like when I retire? For that, there’s no clear answer.
And it’s a problem. As Washington debates, the cost of health care continues its precipitous climb. According to an estimate developed by the brokerage firm Fidelity, a couple retiring at age 65 can expect to spend $275,000 during retirement on medical expenses. It’s a 6 percent increase from 2016 estimates, and that doesn’t include covering certain health-related expenses, such as the cost of a nursing home.
There seems to be no end to this health-care rise, and it only fuels more speculation of how the system could change when you’re ready to actually tap the funds. All these unknowns make it difficult to plan, apart from saving as much as possible.
“Health coverage is going to look different in 20 or 30 years,” said Eric Dostal, a certified financial planner and advisor at Sontag Advisory. But Dostal added that, for planning purposes, it doesn’t matter what Washington is discussing as potential options for changing health care. Instead, he suggests you “plan for what you know today.”
Take advantage of an HSA
When clients ask advisor Phillip Christenson about health-care planning, he admits he has no idea how health care will look when they’re ready to tap funds. Therefore, he runs a few different scenarios, analyzing how much they will need if health-care costs inflate by 10 percent or 15 percent or more. “There’s no real answer, since we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” said Christenson, who co-founded Phillip James Financial.
If the clients need more savings, he will see if they qualify for a health savings account.
“The HSA is not only a huge benefit for medical costs, but it’s also like a secret IRA,” Christenson added.
According to the American Health Insurance Plans, the rate of HSA use has risen to 20.2 million last year, up from 3.2 million in 2006. It has become a popular tactic to earmark some retirement savings specifically for health care, since you can carry over the balance if you don’t use the funds for health-related costs.